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There’s no silver bullet

9 November 2021

“Without a major acceleration in clean energy innovation, reaching net‐zero [carbon] emissions by 2050 will not be achievable.”1 This is one of the stark warnings to come out of the recent IEA report setting out a roadmap for the global energy sector to ensure global temperature rises can be limited to 1.5°C.

The need for further, rapid innovation to combat climate change is not limited to the energy sector. Innovation will form a key point of discussion today at the COP26 Summit. It is widely recognised that there is no technological silver bullet to solve the climate crisis. A tapestry of different solutions will be needed to follow the path to net zero, across fields from energy generation to domestic heating, from agriculture to transport and logistics and many more. This includes solutions that have not yet come to fruition – and so the urgency for innovation in this sector has never been higher.

As innovators in all fields are aware, any level of innovation requires investment. In order to provide the amount of investment needed to deliver innovation at the speed and scales needed to combat the climate emergency, government funding alone cannot be relied on – the private sector must also be mobilised. The UK Government partnership with Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, where each party is committing £200 million to accelerate the research and implementation of climate technologies, could be an effective model to promote private sector engagement.  However, even with assistance from the private sector, ensuring that innovators have the required resources and the confidence that their inventions can support a successful business is critical – without adequate resources, even highly effective inventions may not make it all the way to commercialisation and large-scale deployment.

This is where intellectual property comes in.

Patents in particular provide a legal means to protect the inventive concepts being developed by innovators in the clean technology sector. Once granted, a patent defines a monopoly right, giving the patent owner the ability to prevent others working their invention without permission.

These valuable assets help patent holders to prevent copycat products or processes eroding their market share, can generate revenue streams through licensing to other parties, or can be sold outright. Fundamentally, patents help obtain and secure income for commercialised inventions, supporting businesses and their continued innovation.

Patent protected inventions also offer a more attractive option for investors. The protection to market share for an invention that is afforded by a granted patent provides reassurance that investors will see a good return on their investment. In contrast, businesses reliant on unprotected ideas are often seen as higher risk investments.

At the same time, the filing of patent applications further fuels innovation worldwide. An often overlooked benefit to the patent system is that, through publication of patent applications by patent offices, new inventive concepts are necessarily introduced to the public domain. Patent applications therefore add further to humankind’s collective knowledge, from which further innovations, advances and improvements can be derived.

The urgency of innovation in the clean technology sector, and the importance of patent protection in encouraging that innovation has not been lost on government organisations around the world. Many patent offices offer incentives such as accelerated processing of patent applications for green technologies, in turn enabling businesses to secure investment and a market position more quickly.

It is also clear from patent office statistics that innovators in the clean technology space are increasingly recognising the importance of obtaining patent protection, with the UK Intellectual Property Office receiving a record number of filings through their Green Channel grant acceleration program in 20202.

The unprecedented speed at which vaccines have been developed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated humanity has the capacity to innovate at speed in response to a crisis. With the support of robust intellectual property strategies and private sector investment, we have every confidence that innovators in the clean technology sector can, and will, rise to the challenge of climate change.


Andrew Hey

Electronics, Computing & Physics

© Withers & Rogers LLP November 2021


1 “Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector”

2 Intellectual Property Office Facts and figures: patent, trade mark, design and hearing data: 2020 (27 July 2021)